Badger players, fans speak volumes

UW's inspiring performance and its fans' strident devotion made this championship one to remember

MILWAUKEE — Go ahead and check the one word that glared across the Bradley Center video board Saturday night. It is the same one being spoken aloud all throughout the world of hockey: Wisconsin.

You've read it all.

First, the UW men's hockey team spent an entire season igniting a passionate caravan of Madison followers and noise thicker than the mighty beard of Brian Elliott. For a campus that has witnessed a renaissance in basketball and football since the Badgers had last won a hockey title in 1990, this particular sporting season was measured in ice time.

Then of course these smooth skaters seduced the hordes that flocked to Lambeau Field to watch them emerge victorious from an atmosphere for the ages. Wisconsin looked on as these heroes of hockey performed the Lambeau Leap and then returned the following month to the arena across the street for another historic win – that filibuster of a goaltending debate between Elliott and Cornell's David McKee. When all was said and done, the Badgers had won as many games in Green Bay this season as the Packers did in theirs — three. Only, they never managed to lose. The cheeseheads were freezeheads.

And finally, the puck stopped here, Milwaukee — the home of an NBA team making its playoff push and a baseball club out to its best start since the Reagan administration — was not Bucked or Brewed, but Badgered into joining this icy revolution. First the women and now the men — in it together — doing their best to make Wisconsin a hockey heaven.

The frozen followers came in all shapes and sizes. There were the two young men seated in the section above the Wisconsin bench wearing jeans and helmets — just jeans and helmets. Their bodies were painted from scalp to belt — one side red, one side white.

There was a tall, stoic man standing below the camera gallery who somehow managed to resemble the cool of Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix despite donning a head-to-toe red suit with matching hat.

And of course every Badger fan's greatest in-game friend spent the 60 minutes of play roaming the aisles and daring his vocal chords to collapse, starting "LET'S GO RED" and "WE WANT MORE" chants from as many sections as he could possibly reach.

Adam Burish spoke after the semifinal here about the fans seemingly getting their loudest at completely random points in the game. Those instances were easily documented as well, as a number of times cheers and clapping would begin as the puck was only being dumped or slowly brought up the ice.

And then there were the closing minutes. Oh, that final countdown. The Bradley Center became "How loud can you yell?" theater, as a more deafening and one-sided NCAA championship crowd may never have existed.

"I don't think anyone could hear themselves think," freshman center Ben Street said. "We couldn't hear anything on the bench. We were just yelling in each other's ears who's up next and that sort of thing. This home crowd has just been second to none. Everyone in the building knows how loud it was. From warm-ups on it's been unbelievable. That must be so hard for someone to come up and play against. I know it was a seventh guy on the ice for us."

The Badgers delivered their seventh man its sixth title to celebrate in the most ideal of locales despite all the weight on their shoulders to do so. Anything less than victory might have felt like a letdown with the hype that had been building since these serendipitous skaters discovered they had unearthed a diamond from the Canadian rough in Elliott to serve as the perfect puzzle piece to a roster already stocked with extreme offensive and defensive talent, wonderful coaching and a great seasoning of experience — especially among its senior class.

The plot and the character development fit the storybook that Burish and the seniors have been talking about all along. So did the setting.

"That was as loud and surreal as it has been in my four years," Burish said. "You look around and everybody's standing and everybody's screaming. You could just taste that national championship. What a special place, what a special city — right in our backyard, to win a national championship."

Right in their backyard; right in everybody's backyard. Nobody understands that better than Wisconsin fans and nobody could have dreamed of a moment like this quite like a Wisconsin kid. As one of the 13 in-state players, freshman Jack Skille took hold of the trophy following its presentation and decided to do a lap. He had already spent plenty of time skating from corner to corner, banging on the glass. But he wanted to share the title with the state of Wisconsin as best he could — even if for now that only meant bringing it down the opposite end of the rink and around so everyone could get a peak.

"This is the coolest thing," Skille said. "I had to give them a little taste of it. So I went down there and went around and circled the ice, and I'm just so glad for the Wisconsin people — they're such great hockey fans. They're the best college hockey fans in my mind. I don't care what anybody else says. They're always there behind us and I love them to death."

Well, if you're going to put it that way, maybe it was Skille who ultimately "said it all."

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